A Philosopher's Blog

Fox Fight

Posted in Business, Politics by Michael LaBossiere on October 26, 2009
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While Fox News presents itself as “fair and balanced”, it has recently been the target of intense criticism from other media folks as well as the Obama administration. Naturally, it is important to put this into an historic perspective: administrations have had such tiffs with the media in the past and media organizations have had spats against each other as well. As such, there is really nothing new here other than the players in this particular fight.

The main criticism against Fox News is that it is suffers from a clearly biased perspective. Some critics go so far as to assert that Fox does not really report the news, but that it merely serves to present a political agenda under the guise of reporting. Naturally, folks point out that other media organizations are liberally biased and Fox’s supporters assert that Fox is merely being honest.

While perfect objectivity is impossible, there are clearly degrees of objectivity and fairness. Some journalists are true professionals in this regard. While they are honest about their own views, they are able to consider other viewpoints fairly and present relatively unbiased reports and analysis. Others are clearly true believers and make no attempt to consider alternative views, except to assert how wrong they are. The folks at Fox seem to largely fall towards the unprofessional end of the spectrum. Of course, the same can be said of some other news organizations. For example, MSNBC seems to have some rather significant liberal bias.

I have watched Fox and have tried to be objective in my assessment of their handling of the news. While I do expect the commentators to express opinions (that is their job), the bias is clear and evident. Of course, folks who agree with the Fox agenda will generally not see this bias-they will think that Fox is telling it like it is. This, of course, does provide grounds for dispute and it can be argued that Fox is not biased and is, in fact, the only news agency that is getting it right. Showing bias does, after all, require establishing a baseline of objectivity/neutrality and that point is contested territory.

However, even if a baseline for objectivity is in dispute, a relative baseline can be established. By comparing Fox to the other news agencies as well as independent sources, it is possible to get a picture of relative bias. On this measure, I suspect that Fox will still seem biased.

Also, even without using a baseline, a degree of bias can be discerned by the way the reporters report. To use an analogy, consider the paper I have my Intro to Philosophy students write. One part of the paper is a summary of the Apology and the goal is to clearly, concisely, accurately and in their own words convey the key points of that dialogue. The objective is not to comment, criticize, assess, speculate, or otherwise evaluate and it is rather easy to see when a student deviates from summarizing. The same sort of standard can be applied to reporting in order to check for when a reporter has ceased reporting and is now commenting and presenting a view. The second major part of the paper is an argument section and in this section the students present their position on the issue and argue for it. This, of course, corresponds to news commentary and editorials. However, this is quite distinct from summarizing or, by the analogy, reporting. While journalists do go beyond reporting, they do so in various degrees. The more this is done, the greater chance there is that bias is involved-especially if the commentary has a consistent ideological leaning. The folks at Fox seem to have a significant tendency to go from reporting to commenting without making it clear that they are doing so, thus suggesting the possibility of bias (or at least a failure to understand the distinction between a report and an editorial).

Now, in regards to the administrations fight with Fox, they are ironically helping Fox out. After all, Fox’s viewers will tend to be against Obama and the administration’s words and actions serve to reinforce the views of such people. While Obama and his people have the right to decide which news shows they visit, it does not seem appropriate for the administration to get into this sort of brawl with Fox, even if Fox is distorting facts.

A final remark I have, inspired by the wrestling episode of South Park, is that perhaps Fox is like the WWF of news: it puts on a morality play to entertain the viewers and merely pretends to be a real news agency, just as the pro-“wrestlers” pretend to really be fighters.

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14 Responses

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  1. T. J. Babson said, on October 26, 2009 at 8:01 am

    I think a lot depends on one’s starting assumptions about the U.S. I think a lot of people on the left start with the idea that the U.S. is a fundamentally racist, aggressive, and imperialist power bent on bending the world to its will. Those on the right tend to view the U.S. as a fundamentally benign nation that occasionally makes mistakes but has generally been a force for good in the world.

    So, depending on one’s starting assumptions, one can view the same event in different ways. I think this accounts for most of the claims of bias.

    • biomass2 said, on October 26, 2009 at 5:15 pm

      http://www.economist.com/blogs/democracyinamerica/2009/10/denialism_as_a_negative_extern.cfm

      The title of the piece says it all:
      “We believe the facts our politics tell us to believe.” I would put quotation marks around the word “facts”. Note: I’ve got no idea what the song has to do with the article–other than its title. If you do, please explain.

      In the penultimate paragraph:” We have a dynamic of political discourse that produces absolute belief in things that, often enough, aren’t true. . . . . . .If [we can't find a] factoid that works[ to support our belief], [we find] something else.”

      T.J: If by left you mean “left of center”,I would not say “a *lot* of people on the left”. I would hazard a guess that many, many more people to the left do not have the more or less absolutist, fringe beliefs you ascribe to them in your first sentence.

      For example, I’m not foolish enough to believe we’ve moved beyond racism or that racism will just go away if we elect a black president. But the country was not even *fundamentally racist* pre-Civil War. Still, there was far too much racism here far too late into the 20th century to brush it off or be smugly satisfied by the progress we’ve made. Do such views make me a US-hater? I’m also fiscally relatively conservative but socially moderate to liberal. Label me, please.

      And I don’t believe the territory you claim for “those on the right” (All of them? Many of them? Some of them? A few of them?) is uniquely their own. I, and many of the liberals I know–a small group, but not one to be marginalized, believe in your very moderate view that “the US is a fundamentally benign nation that occasionally makes mistakes but has generally been a force for good in the world.” I believe, for example, that to oppose a specific war does not prove a lack of patriotism. To oppose every war, if the opposition would lead to the loss of our government, our country and our way of life, is unpatriotic, even though it might simply be an outgrowth of an individual’s religious beliefs.

      Once you start surfing the various fringe sites on *both* sides of the ideological spectrum, you encounter what appear to be large and growing minorities. Usually, they’re not. They’re just loud and insistent, and they wield more power than their numbers would justify. Remember “the moral majority”?

      Subtle and not-so-subtle differences between liberals, conservatives, and independents are largely overlooked by extremists. They cannot comprehend gray as an alternative to not-white or not-black. Well, I’m not willing to pay for a
      front row seat in their noise machine.

  2. magus71 said, on October 26, 2009 at 9:45 am

    I have never once stated that Fox News is not right-leaning. But there are many thing that I would not hear about were it not for right-wing “biased” comentators. You yourself have admitted to not hearing much about the Charlie Rangel issue. I take Rush and Fox for what they are and I know they can be wrong sometimes. But I give even less credit to MSNBC–they’re comic-bookish.

    Most of all, I believe in American Exceptionalism, which those who hate Fox seemingly don’t. Those who don’t believe in it should lok at the man they put in the Oval Office and wonder how a nation that isn’t exceptional could be the first Western nation to put a black man into power.

    Fox, I think believes in it too. The others don’t. The others are wrong.

    You should be more specific when you say Fox. The comentators are payed for opinion, not reporting news stories so much. Fox blows away the other stations in ratings, and I think it’s for good reason.

    Like the American novelist John Cheever said: “I may be a bad writer, but I’m worse at everything else.”

    Fox may be bad, but most of the others are worse.

    • biomass2 said, on October 26, 2009 at 11:13 am

      “I have never once stated that Fox News is not right-leaning.”
      That would seem to be at odds with their “Fair and Balanced” claim.(They’re still claiming that, aren’t they?)Their news anchors, on the other hand, are a hybrid group. Newsy-opinionators of the wink-wink, nudge-nudge, knowing-smile, tone-of-voice variety. That’s one way you recognize them as “right-leaning”. Right?

      Beck and the rest are “full-blown” opinionators. Like anyone of their ilk, they’ll throw a ton of crap up against the wall and occasionally a piece will stick. That’s the nature of their game. It’s similar to the way palm readers and tarot readers work. Except palm readers and taro readers usually aren’t such obnoxious blowhards. Bless you for being willing to get down and sift through all their crap**# to find the few little nuggets that match your ideology.

      There’s a lot of criticism going around these days about Obama making promises during the campaign that he’s not fulfilling. The problem, ‘they’ say, is that he shouldn’t have made overblown promises in the first place, then his failures wouldn’t seem so serious. I agree whole-heartedly and have posted on the subject here. I also believe that Fox’s failure to live up to a claim that they present as their very *core* philosophy makes their failure to be “fair and balanced” just as serious.

      Try the MacNeil Lehrer News Hour. It’s refreshing to see real news men and women interview knowledgeable people at length about the important topics of the day. They interview; you decide. No sideways glances–no nudge-nudge comments between the news anchors.

      **#Bear with me.Another nugget or two from a Rush show. On the way to the gym I listened to about 15 minutes. Rush was laughing about Obama talking about how he and Michelle had to learn, a few years back, to negotiate over dividing responsibilities for caring for the children. Rush haraumphed and thought that that same sign of weakness (negotiating with his wife) in Obama is reflected in his foreign policy. On the way back home, about an hour later, I listened to another 15 minute segment. There one of his callers suggested we should get out of Afghanistan because Obama wouldn’t provide soldiers with adequate support once they’re there. Rush disagreed. He agreed that you couldn’t depend on Obama, but he thought we should send in more troops because we have so much invested there already. He finished by saying “I’m not one to quit anything.”

      Now I found these two things very interesting and telling and contradictory. 1/Negotiating with the wife is a sign of weakness (Certainly this would please plenty of conservative men. . .) and 2/ Not quitting anything. The first thought that occurred to me: Rush, you’re a dolt. You’ve been married three times. Divorced three times. You take on and discard wives like you take on and take off fat. 1/ If you take the attitude of never negotiating with your wife, any fourth marriage of yours will end in divorce. 2/ “You’re not one to quit anything”. . . Except marriage? Except truth. Except introspection?

      • Michael LaBossiere said, on October 26, 2009 at 5:28 pm

        What is rather interesting is that there are some excellent conservative thinkers in the “media” who offer insightful and useful criticism of both the left and the right. Unfortunately, that sort of calm reason does not attract the same sort of attention that emotional rants tend to garner. Plato noticed this and wrote about this in the Republic (Book X, his discussion of why poetry needs to be banned from the idea state).

      • biomass2 said, on October 26, 2009 at 10:40 pm

        Aargh! Glenn Beck as a 21st Century Walt Whitman! Rush Limbaugh as Theodore Roethke! The following was written as Rush would say “with half my brain tied behind my back”. . . It just makes more sense than most of his program.

        Banning the shrill commentators from society would be “a consummation devoutly to be wished”, but thank the gods we live in a free society with a Constitution and First Amendment protections.

        I’m not willing to lump the blowhards with the great poets. Superficially, the comparison makes the yakkers look too good and the poets look bad. Besides, we’re talking two widely different categories of emotion. Rush, Sean, and their ilk seek to inflame; most poets seek to inspire (and, to Plato’s chagrin apparently, not to inform). And in doing so Beck etal quite often appeal to the worst parts of men’s souls; poets appeal to the better aspects of men’s natures.

        Save the poets. Don’t use them as excuses to rid the nation of talk show hosts.:)

    • biomass2 said, on October 31, 2009 at 10:12 pm

      “You should be more specific when you say Fox. The comentators are payed for opinion, not reporting news stories so much.”

      Here’s an interesting little piece that I happened onto today that helps explain why being “specific” about Fox (i.e. making the distinction between news and commentary on Fox) is problematic:

      http://www.thedailyshow.com/videos/?term=for+fox+sake&start=0

  3. magus71 said, on October 26, 2009 at 11:58 pm

    Oh no. You’ve got biomass going on about Limbaugh again…

  4. magus71 said, on October 27, 2009 at 1:46 am

    Mike,

    I think your own bias is causing you to overlook the really sharp people on Fox. You’re doing exactly what you’re accusing the people who love Beck do Focusing on the punditry.

    Charles Krauthammer is probably the best writer and conservative thinker there is. He’s a Fox news contributer and Pulitzer prize winner.

    Ralph Peters is the Fox strategic analyst. Fair people who disagree with Peters would at least admit thart he’s a good writer and thinker. People like me would say that he’s the boldest writer on America’s place in the world, and says what most people only can think. He’s not nearly as partisan as those who focus on hi militaristic ideas would accuse him of being.

    John Stossel too is a good writer and comentator with some of the best anti-Obama arguments out there. Also appears on Fox regularly.

    Oliver North appars on Hannity and has his own piece on Fox: War Stories with Oliver North. North is obviously conservative, but he’s a smart guy. Give him some credit.

    I challenge people to find their polar equals on MSNBC. There are pleanty more. You and biomass are allowing beck and Co. to do exactly what they do to conseratives: Rile you up.

    Fox isn’t that bad. And remember why you stopped watching CNN and started watching Fox for a while, Mike? It wasn`’t just the hot chicks.

    • biomass2 said, on October 27, 2009 at 9:34 am

      I’m guessing the people you mention aren’t overlooked because of bias. I’m guessing they’re lost in the noise machine run by Beck and Co (along with Rush on the radio)–you know, the guys who’ve become the public faces and voices of conservative thought.The crybabies and shouters who are also “smart” “sharp people” in their way. Of course you could use those words to describe Attila the Hun and Jeffrey Dahmer. But, unlike “Attie” and “Jeffro”, they’re also good for a laugh. I’ll use them as such.

      I like to see Krauthammer at the top of your list. On foreign policy he’s a neocon, but he’s socially pretty liberal (pro-evolution, anti-death penalty, pro-abortion,not religious, pro high taxes on energy). He must confound those fundamentalists who for a decade or two have held such disproportionate power in the party relative to their numbers. And he’s a Harvard graduate. . .

      You’re a Fox News fan. How many times has Krauthammer been on to talk about those social issues? The answer to that question would speak volumes about both Krauthammer and Fox.

      Has Ralph Peters been right as often as he’s been wrong about Iraq?

      If you want Fox to be considered real news,, compare it with real news programming, not with MSNBC. Again, try MacNeil/Lehrer. Here. Sample this; it won’t bite–I promise :) :

      http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/business/july-dec09/tarp_10-21.html

      • magus71 said, on October 27, 2009 at 12:41 pm

        I like Krauthammer precisely because he’s a bag of contradictions, not to mention that he’s a great thinker. Peters has a very similar writing style to Krauthammer. That fact that he doesn’t fit easily with one side makes me think that he’s at least considering all the options on his own.

        I don’t think conservatism lacks its own intellecuals, despite the passing of W. F. Buckley. I think people attack Rush and Beck more on their style than content. If they calmly presented ideas like Krauthammer or like Buckly used to, I think they’d make fewer enemies.

      • biomass2 said, on October 27, 2009 at 5:34 pm

        I think that “[i]f they calmly presented ideas like Krauthammer or like Buckly used to” even their loving public would soon enough find that “There’s no there there.”

      • biomass2 said, on October 29, 2009 at 2:46 pm

        Calmly presented [but not helpful].

        Krauthammer begins an essay about HR 3200– “The Truth About Death Counseling”–with the paragraph “Let’s see if we can have a reasoned discussion about end-of-life counseling. We might start by asking Sarah Palin to leave the room. I’ve got nothing against her. She’s a remarkable political talent. But there are no ‘death panels’ in the Democratic health-care bills, and to say that there are is to debase the debate.” He most notably omits any comment about Mrs. Palin’s “remarkable conservative mind”.
        So far, objective, straightforward commentary.

        http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/08/20/AR2009082003035.html

        There’s one thing about Krauthammer, though. Sometimes he just can’t help himself. At the heart of this piece is a twisted commentary on living wills.

        “And if I’m totally out of it, my family will decide, with little or no reference to my living will. Why? I’ll give you an example. When my father was dying, my mother and brother and I had to decide how much treatment to pursue.What was a better way to ascertain my father’s wishes: What he checked off on a form one fine summer’s day years before being stricken; or what we, who had known him intimately for decades, thought he would want? The answer is obvious.”

        Of course the answer is obvious if we first examine Mr. Krauthammer’s personal living will which reads, apparently in its entirety, “I’ve had some good innings, thank you. If I have anything so much as a hangnail, pull the plug.” The document as he penned it is a joke and intentionally so. If the family would follow it, he would have been put away before the ink was dry. And deciding to keep his father alive, if his father had penned such a fatuous statement, would have been an easy and justifiable decision. Taking an essay like this into consideration, such an early and insignificant “death by hangnail” for the younger Krauthammer may have been justified. . .

        I take my living will much more seriously, as I would assume any thinking person would. Any end of life decisions I make when I’m “hale and hearty”, I expect to be carried out. I don’t want family emotions or beliefs–guilt, grief, confusion, religious dogma–to enter into the decision. It’s my life and my death. I want the full force of the legal system behind my decisions. I don’t want rogue governors or presidents or supreme courts overriding my wishes. I’m an individual living in a country that praises and protects the individual and protects his rights against the powers of individual(s), corporations, and government itself. That should be true when I’m “hale and hearty’ and when I’m at the point when continuing treatment “only prolongs the dying process and is not necessary to my comfort or to alleviate pain.” That last would be only part of a sane and serious person’s ‘living will’.

        Krauthammer had the choice to write no living will at all, or to write a serious statement of his wishes. He had the choice whether or not to add to “a reasoned discussion”. I chose, instead, to rest his argument on a “hangnail”. :(

  5. T. J. Babson said, on October 27, 2009 at 1:18 pm

    Let’s not forget Thomas Sowell and Robert Samuelson.


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